So, I gather that there has been some kind of controversey over recent comments by Chick-fil-A's president Dan Cathy on the subject of gay marraige. Here's what he said:
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit ... We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."
This comment has provoked a range of reactions, from support by usual suspects such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to condemnations and moves to ban Chick-fil-A restaurants from New York, Boston, and Chicago.
Rachel Held Evans has a response to the controversey on her blog, urging Christians who support gay and lesbian rights to act with respect toward those conservatives with whom they disagree, refraining from using language like "bigot" or "homophobe." Specifically, she writes:
But I beg you to please remember that not all Christians who speak out against gay marriage are bigots or homophobes, and calling them those names is as unjust as it is unkind. Many of the people I love most in my life fall into this “camp,” and most of them mean it when they say that they sincerely love their friends and relatives in the LGBT community and wish they knew of some way to hold to their convictions without hurting or insulting their neighbors. (emphasis in original)
There's alot to agree with in what Rachel writes, but I think this portion is worth commenting on, precisely because much of what you think of this position depends on what you think "bigotry" and "homophobia" entail. This is a point that Fred Clark at Slacktivist has made in the past, and its worth repeating: To the degree that you are on the side of those who have committed themselves to the exclusion and marginalization of LGBT folks within American society, you forfeit the right to be treated as one of the good guys. As Fred puts it:
Look, here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if you think you’re a nice person. And it doesn’t matter if your tone, attitude, sentiments and facial expressions are all very sweet, kindly and sympathetic-seeming. If you’re opposing legal equality, then you don’t get to be nice. Opposing legal equality is not nice and it cannot be done nicely.
Nice is different than good, but opposing legal equality for others is neither. It’s simply unfair.
So be fair.
It’s probably best to be fair and also kind, but fairness is the important part. As long as you’re fair, no one else will really care whether or not you’re particularly kindlyabout it. But if you’re not fair, then kindness isn’t even a possibility.
So, to that degree, "bigot" and "homophobe" are perfectly legitimate terms to apply to Chick-fil-A and those who support the restaurant based on its support for marriage inequality. It may not be "nice" to use those terms, but it is wholly fair and appropriate. Rachel may well believe that many of these folks are nice people, and its true that the may act nice while in the process of practicing bigotry, but that doesn't make them any less bigots.
And, to be clear on this, the real issue with Chick-fil-A is, as Fred again notes, not simply that it's president is a bigot, but that it is, as an institution, actively supporting organizations that exist to promote the legal discrimination against gays and lesbians:
Yes, Dan Cathy recently reaffirmed his views and his stance. That’s old news. The newnews — the news that has led to calls for boycotts of Chik-fil-A — is that Cathy and his company are bankrolling political groups in an effort to deny other people the right to marry and to deny them the right not to be fired because of who they are.
This isn’t about Cathy’s “views” or his “stance” — his opinions or his words. His history of such comments may have prompted a hilarious drag-queen Wilson Phillips parody (NSFW, and also an ear-worm warning) but Cathy’s words alone did not prompt calls for a boycott.
Those came after it was learned that Chik-fil-A’s corporate foundation was supporting groups like the Family Research Council. The FRC is a political lobby (and also, according to the SPLC, a hate-group). Chik-fil-A’s support for the Family Research Council and it’s viciously anti-gay agenda is a political act. It is an act ofpower against others and a use of power to harm others.
It's hard, under that set of circumstances, to argue that there is nothing more than simply a matter of personal distaste at stake here. There is the use of company resources to promote legalized bigotry. Those who have decided that the proper response to this is either boycott or demonstration are well within the bounds of legitimate discourse. Indeed, on that front, I find the idea of showing up to Chick-fil-A in drag hilarously appropriate as a response. It's the actions of Chick-fil-A that deserve a response, not simply the odious opinions of its president.